Things are getting warm for Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels and it isn’t because the warm winds of the Mojave desert are blowing strong. Instead, McDaniels decision to make a change at starting quarterback at the end of last season has gone horribly wrong thus far and his team is paying the price.
Despite ending their three-game losing streak with a 17-13 win over Green Bay on Monday night, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s struggles continue to stunt an offense that was projected to be one of the league’s best.
When the Las Vegas Raiders decided to move on from long-time starter Derek Carr with three games left in the 2022 season, they had options to pick their next quarterback during the offseason. They could have tried to move up in the draft to get a young quarterback and roll with him as he learns, which can be a painful process. Or, they could sign a bridge veteran quarterback while they build the rest of their roster.
General manager Dave Ziegler and McDaniels decided to go all in on oft-injured former San Francisco 49ers starter Jimmy Garoppolo, who was coming off an injury and a tumultuous year where he lost his starting role with the 49ers. Ziegler and McDaniels were the proverbial fraternity brothers at the roulette wheel, putting all their chips on black.
Black was Garoppolo.
While Garoppolo isn’t this team’s only problem (see: offensive line struggles), his inability to utilize the multitude of weapons on what is the fifth-most expensive offensive unit in the NFL underscores his failure to grasp and run McDaniel’s offensive playbook effectively.
Jimmy Garoppolo is not living up to expectations
Garoppolo has simply not delivered on even conservative expectations entering his first season in Las Vegas. He has thrown six touchdowns and seven interceptions in the four games he’s played (he missd Week 4 due to a concussion). At a time when the Raiders need to be thinking about and developing a true 10-year franchise quarterback, they paid a veteran who had won with a much more talented supporting cast in San Francisco.
Despite the change in scenery and the fact the 49ers are currently the best team in the NFL, it’s not as if Garoppolo inherited an offense full of rookies or washed veterans. That makes his struggles even harder to swallow.
- Jimmy Garoppolo stats (2023): 69% completion, 917 yards, 6 TD, 7 INT, 82.6 QB rating
With the Raiders’ supporting offensive lineup featuring a top-five receiver in All-Pro Davante Adams, free agent Jakobi Meyers and second-round rookie tight end Michael Mayer, there’s no excuse for Garoppolo’s underwhelming performance. In an NFL where high-flying offenses score points in bunches, Jimmy G and the Raiders have yet to be able to score 20 points in a game.
So far in 2023, Garoppolo has shown he’s unable to do much beyond the structure of the offense. That shouldn’t be a surprise for a throwback pocket QB who can be accurate and win games when things are going smoothly. Even then, he’s making poor decisions which have resulted in far too many giveaways.
The “Jimmy Gimmes” are back with a vengeance
Garoppolo’s turnover problem is not something the rebuilding Raiders can afford. One of the reasons you invest in a veteran bridge quarterback is that, in theory, he protects the ball and doesn’t make the mistakes you see from a rookie.
Last year, in the same McDaniels offense, Derek Carr threw for 24 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. It was not a great year for Carr, so he now calls New Orleans home. In just four games, Garoppolo already has seven interceptions against six scores through the air. He leads the NFL in interceptions thrown and what isn’t captured by just stats is how the interceptions derailed Las Vegas’ offensive progress over the first quarter of the season.
Asked about his interception in the first half of Monday’s game against Green Bay, Garoppolo acknowledged it was just poor decision-making. A poor choice that led to a touchdown for the Packers.
“He just undercut Kobs [Jakobi Meyers]. I threw the ball a little behind him, should never done
it, and I’ve just got to be smarter with it,” Garoppolo said. “But (I) thought overall tonight guys did a good job taking care of the ball, but I just have to eliminate that one.”
All NFL quarterbacks make mistakes and throw interceptions, and I’m not here to say the Raiders need perfection. But the rate at which Garoppolo is throwing them this season is the key point here.
According to NFL Statistics, Garoppolo throws an interception on 5.6% of his passes, the highest in the league. The next closest starting quarterback is the New York Giants’ Daniel Jones at 4.0%. That’s an alarming number for a veteran starter in the league.
“Playing quarterback in our league starts with taking care of the football, whether that be hanging on to it in the pocket or making good decisions in the passing game,” McDaniels said after the Raiders loss to the Chargers with rookie Aidan O’Connell starting and turning the ball over three times. “And, also understanding the timing and that element of playing within the pocket in the NFL. It’s not always the same week-to-week.”
While McDaniels was talking about O’Connell’s struggles in his first NFL start, shouldn’t the 10-year veteran be held to the same standard?
A little grace for the QB in a new system?
It’s true McDaniels and Garoppolo have a history and it’s the reason the Raiders pursued him as the replacement for Carr. Yet, the system Garoppolo ran in San Francisco under Kyle Shanahan is different from the one employed by McDaniels. An adjustment period was to be expected.
Despite that, it’s the inability of Garoppolo to find key receivers in routes that remains an issue. The use of the Raiders’ greatest weapon — Davante Adams — is one example.
Against Green Bay, Adams was targeted just four times. Yes, defenses are going to bracket Adams or double-team him but a veteran quarterback still has to find his top receiver and trust him with some passes into tight coverage.
When asked after the game, if he was seeing increased coverage and if it was the reason why he wasn’t more involved, Adams responded bluntly.
“More than I would like, but that is what every team does,” Adams said from the Raiders locker room Monday. “That doesn’t make it an excuse, they still have to find a way to get me the ball. I said many times if we are going off of just getting the ball in single coverage, I would have 22 catches on the year. We have to find a way to work.”
That was a clear message from one of the best in the league: he’s not getting the ball enough.
As the Monday Night Football crew pointed out during the game, it appears that Garoppolo and his receivers, except Meyers, are still not comfortable with one another.
It’s still early and a turnaround is possible
The Garoppolo signing is a bust so far but it is only Week 5. The Raiders have their most favorable stretch of 2023 coming up facing New England (1-4) this Sunday followed by road games at Chicago (1-4), Detroit (4-1) and home against the New York Giants (1-4). That’s followed by a tough three-game stretch against the Jets, Dolphins and Chiefs, so the time for a turnaround for quarterback and team is now.
When asked last week during media availability, prior to the Green Bay game, if he thought he and the Raiders were close to turning things around this season, Garoppolo said he believes that and talked about the reasons why.
“Just the guys’ mindset I think. I think that sort of starts with just guys having the right mindset
out here at practice, and then just transferring it over the game,” Garoppolo said. “It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but just making the practice execution becomes game reality and that’s what we’re trying to do and it’s going to happen here.”
Despite the quarterback’s optimism, the results of the Raiders going all-in on their new starter hasn’t produced a jackpot yet.